Mar 24th 2021

10 qualities you need to work in startups

Most of you will have spent countless hours detailing your work experience and listing out your qualifications to make your CV as impressive as possible. But we’re going to let you in on a secret: to work in startups, it’s the person behind the piece of paper that matters most. And with a 16% increase in UK tech startups in 2020, the world of startups is where you want to be. 

More often than not, the person who ends up being the right fit for the role was not actually perfect on paper. And that’s because they have most, if not all, of the below traits and were able to show this throughout the hiring process. 

Top qualities to work in startups 

Responsibility

Working at a startup is great because you are more than just a cog in a machine, you can make a real impact in your role. But with this comes responsibility as startups need to have a team of people who can do what they say they are going to do and be accountable. 

How? Be sure to demonstrate times you have been responsible for something, for example, the organisation of an event or a task given to you at work. 

Communication skills

To work in startups, having soft skills such as these skills can go just as far as having technical skills. In a recent study we did, we found that almost three-quarters of fast-growing companies believe that hiring people with good soft skills will be more important in the future than it is now. 

How? Shout out about the experience you have gained from roles in retail or hospitality as well as time spent in side-hustles such as running a society or volunteer work. This experience will have helped you develop soft skills along the way. Want some first-hand insight? Hear about how Hamish’s experiences helped him improve his communication skills. 

Chloe Samarasinghe, Talent Executive at Moneybox, says, “balancing your studies whilst being committed to a job shows effective time-management and helps you develop strong communication skills.”

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Fast-learning 

Startups often have a few years to reach a milestone and fundraise or they will run out of money. This means making a lot happen in a short period of time, so they want to build a team of people that can think on their feet and learn how to do things quickly with little support.

How? Highlight experiences, whether it’s at school, in a job, doing extracurricular activities, or even in your personal life, where you have had to pick something up quickly and done well.

Adaptability

Work in startups can be tough with its path to growth often coming across a few speed bumps along the way. There will be setbacks and people who have the ability to learn from these, bounce back and drive forward new ideas are key assets. 

How? We’ve all had situations where things didn’t go our way. Dive into an example of this in your application and demonstrate how you overcame the setback to end up with a good end result.  

Maggie Lay, People Manager at WeGift, says, “our value of ‘adapt and overcome’ means we are looking for candidates that are able to handle the dynamic, fast-moving pace at a startup like ourselves.”

Creative skills 

Startups strive to disrupt the industry they are in using innovative ideas. They want to hire people who are prepared to take the necessary risks to make things happen, bringing their own creative flair to the table. Fearless innovators who can identify and calculate risks to accelerate growth. 

How? Think of times you have solved a problem with a creative solution or started something of your own and hone in on this. Have a watch of how Aleksandria used her side-hustles to help her develop a creative flair. 

Humility

Most jobseekers are hesitant to admit failures. But startups learn as they grow, they will make mistakes along the way. It’s the humility and self-awareness to admit these mistakes, accept feedback and move forward that counts. It will demonstrate that you are not afraid of failure and show you’re not afraid of the pitfalls you will encounter.

Maggie Lay says, “we want to see a sense of self-awareness and the ability to receive feedback by showing a past failure and what you learnt from it.”

How? Have a story prepared about a past mistake or failure, explaining what you learnt from it and how you turned the experience into something positive. 

Ambition 

Startup life isn’t about just showing up, doing your 9-5 hours, and then clocking off. That is not in the job description for what it takes to thrive. Startups want people who love jumping in where needed and are willing to go above and beyond to help drive the company towards its end goal. They don’t want people who are going to do the bare minimum with no sense of purpose. Startups want to make a big impact on their industry and they need people who have the drive to help them do this.

How? Demonstrate a time where you have taken the initiative to learn a new skill to develop yourself or created something from scratch that you are proud of. 

Passion 

Passion, motivation, and excitement for the company are more important than just what you have on your CV. Founders of startups want people on the journey with them that believe in their mission and what they’re doing. 

Daniel Illes, Head of People at Vinted, says, “these three things are half the win. Once you’ve shown you care about the job and are really excited about it, you create a human connection, and hiring managers will look over the slight gaps in your CV in favour of this.” 

How? Research the company, its values, and its mission and highlight your passion for this in everything that you do. 

Culture fit 

Startups want to hire people who believe in their values and will not only fit into the culture but will make it better in their own unique way. Startup teams work closely together and cross-functionally to achieve goals, and they want someone who will bring the right attitude and contributions to make the company better. 

How? The most important thing is to be your true self, especially in the interview process. Let your personality shine through, be completely authentic throughout, and ask thoughtful questions. 

Startups are looking for qualities that show you are more than your CV and are passionate about their company. The best thing you can do is tailor your CV to show off these qualities in the recruiting process just as much as you do your other skills and qualifications. Everyone can list a bunch of achievements, but not everyone has that certain personality that makes them perfect to work in startups. 

Have a read of our key takeaways from our webinar where a panel of experts share their top tips on how you can show employers who you really are.